Saving the planet with jelly and ice-cream

A couple of weeks ago our attention was drawn to a new website launched earlier this year that offers an ethical alternative for busy parents fed up of the throwaway consumerism perpetuated by children’s birthday parties. (PAW) is a cross between Just Giving and Oxfam Unwrapped, and allows conscientious parents to make donations towards a charity or cause chosen by the birthday child themselves instead of buying material gifts.

PAW is the brainchild of successful ‘mumpreneur’ Deirdre Bounds who in 2007 sold her ethical travel company for millions. PAW hopes to revolutionise children’s birthday parties, in the same way i-to-i revolutionised the gap year travel business, and become the alternative gift-giving choice for busy but conscientious parents.

Our curiosity was aroused and so we spoke to Deirdre.
“The idea came to me about 4 years ago when I was organising my son’s first big party. I was very busy at the time, like most working mums, and had to write invitations and then chase RSVP’s from other busy mums so that I could give numbers to the bowling alley where the party was to be held. When it came to the day of the party there were lots of presents to open and yet more admin, keeping a record of who gave what and then writing thank you notes.”

“And what to do with all the presents was another thing. They had all been bought by busy parents like me, who didn’t really know my son and what he liked and many were unwanted. We have all been there. We have only a few minutes to spare to buy a gift, usually a piece of plastic tat bought from the supermarket at the last minute for a child we don’t know, so I had sympathy for the parents that had bought the gifts. ”

“Most unwanted presents can be recycled to hospitals or charities but I thought that there must be a better way! So I approached Keith Hopkins with the PAW concept and together we set up the party page.”

The PAW process is simple: once a parent and child have chosen a charitable theme for their party they set up a party page and issue electronic or printed invites. Guests are invited to RSVP online and select a ‘gift’ worth £5, £7.50 and £10, or they can donate a larger amount at their discretion. The online-based nature of PAW means donations can be made quickly, easily and in an environmentally friendly way, while automated invitations, RSVP’s and thank-you cards make life easier for busy parents.

A total of 12 ‘child-friendly‘ charities are represented on PAW ranging from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to Born Free, the foundation that aims to protect threatened species and keep wildlife in the wild.

Once the party has taken place the nominated charity receives up to 115% of the gift total from all the guests, when Gift AID has been included. The birthday child also receives a certificate showing how much he or she has raised.

“PAW helps out mums and dads on both sides of the party – those hosting the party don’t end up with a mountain of well-meaning but unwanted gifts and those attending don’t have to rush around at the last minute trying to find a suitable gift for yet another birthday party. Plus it’s a chance to teach our children about world issues and ethics and educate them about worthwhile causes in a fun and engaging way.”

And Deidre has just hosted a PAW party for her own daughter.
“My daughter is still young and just starting to be invited to lots of birthday parties and recently we hosted her first party. Naturally we made it a PAW party. My daughter chose the BumbleBee Foundation and the party raised almost £100. I’m not sure that my daughter is quite old enough to fully understand the concept yet but she will have a certificate to remind her of the money she helped to raise. She didn’t miss the presents and the party was a great success….the gift was the party!”

“We have to start to educate children out of the greed, avarice, expectation culture that colours our society and the PAW concept is one way we can start to do this. It may be more of a challenge to re-train the parents; to get them to understand that they don’t need to spend money buying unwanted gifts and to explain to their children that they can have a great birthday without the gifts.”

My own son is 17 and, thankfully, too old to still be involved in the party circuit. If PAW had been around when he was smaller I am sure that it would have saved me lots of time and stress and saved a lot of unwanted gifts. I hope that the PAW concept really takes off!

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